Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

National Disability Insurance Scheme, Australian Labor Party

Program: Meet the Press

E & OE – Proof only

HUGH RIMINTON: And now, welcome Jenny Macklin. Minister, good morning.


HUGH RIMINTON: Let’s have a look at what’s taken place in the last couple of days, first of all. Do you see that as a great personal victory for the Prime Minister in what was achieved this week?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t think it is about a victory for the Prime Minister or me. It is about really a great victory for people with disability. The wonderful thing that has happened this week is it’s really shown that people with disability have found their voice and are using that voice loud and clear to say, “It’s time for Australia to have a National Disability Insurance Scheme”.

And we meet with people all the time who demonstrate to us why it is that it’s so necessary, the mother that needs to know that her adult child will have a place to live when she passes away. The girl with cerebral palsy who wants to go to university that can’t get there because of a lack of transport, and so the stories go on, so that’s what it’s about.

HUGH RIMINTON: Let’s look at the wash-up then. New South Wales in the end did not come up with all the money you wanted them to produce, half of the money, in fact, is what they finished up with. How is that going to affect the scheme, the trial phase in the Hunter?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ll do all the detailed work now with New South Wales and Victoria. But I am pleased that both the Premiers have acknowledged that they need to make a contribution, and so I think that’s good.

HUGH RIMINTON: Sure, but in practice, it’s going to be smaller in the Hunter than you intended to be?

JENNY MACKLIN: Let’s wait to see. We only, of course, got the details from them very late on Friday.

HUGH RIMINTON: But the alternative to it being small is that you have tip in more, surely?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s why we’ll do the work starting tomorrow. We’ve got officials who’ll be in Sydney tomorrow working through all the detail with New South Wales. I want to make sure that we, of course, get it right for people with disability and I know that the people in the Hunter definitely want that. They are saying, “We want the first launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme to be in the Hunter”, so let’s try and see if we can make that happen.

HUGH RIMINTON: OK, let’s see what the promise of this insurance scheme for the disabled is. If someone suffers something at 20 which leaves them with major disabilities, will they be covered for life under the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: Say a person gets a terrible disease in their 20s that really leaves them with a profound disability. Once they are assessed and their needs are worked through, of course, they will be able to stay in the disability insurance scheme for their life and that will be regularly updated to make sure that their needs are being met.

But the whole point of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is to really get rid of the terrible lottery that exists at the moment where people don’t know if they are going to have the wheelchair they need when they grow. I’ve got a young man living around the corner from me who’s now an adult. He needed a new wheelchair. His parents had to fundraise to get that wheelchair. Now that is what we want to get rid of.

HUGH RIMINTON: But some element of lottery remains, doesn’t it, because 65 is a cut off. So, if a 64-year-old has some event that leaves him disabled, he will be covered for life under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. A 66-year-old having exactly the same event will not be. There is a lottery still, isn’t there?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have not made a decision about that yet. That is what the Productivity Commission recommended, but there are a lot of issues and exactly the one you have raised is being raised by many people around the country, so I think we’ve got to work that through.

HUGH RIMINTON: Sure, so while you are working that through you cannot therefore know what it will ultimately cost, because you do not know its parameters. So we are still in the dark about how much this massive cost burden – which it will be – the nation taking on the cost burden – even what it may amount to?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have certainly done a lot of work on the costings on the basis of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, and we have had the Government actuary and state Treasuries, our Treasury go through all that, so we think we’ve got the numbers pretty clear for that scheme.

Now we are going out talking with disability groups, talking with seniors groups, parents and carers. Of course, working through all of these issues. The good thing is we will be able to tests at lot of these things on the ground in the launch sites, which is why we want to get up and running next year.

HUGH RIMINTON: Joe Hockey is certainly worried about the cost, because it’s highly probable it will fall if to a Coalition Treasurer to sort through some of these details. Here’s what he had to say.

JOE HOCKEY: I would have to found the money. I would not go down the path of raising expectations on a program as important as this without actually finding the money.

HUGH RIMINTON: It seems to be an issue, doesn’t it? So why don’t you, given this is a multi-parliamentary term reform, why don’t you take up the Coalition offer of a joint-party committee to help to guide this through, because inevitably the Coalition is going to be involved at some stage in the birthing of it?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think people with disabilities do not need another committee. But what we have…

HUGH RIMINTON: …you ask for multi-party committees on climate change and asylum seeker policy. This is so huge, don’t you trust them to be part of the process?

JENNY MACKLIN: We already have that with the states and territories through the Council of Australian Governments, so that has been established. We are working with our other colleagues from other political parties at the state and territory level and of course we know…

HUGH RIMINTON: …but not federally and it’s a federal reform, fundamentally. Don’t you trust them to do a sincere and decent and honest job about getting through a reform that they say they support?

JENNY MACKLIN: It is more that we have a number of different committees already. We’ve got a lot to do, we have made a commitment in our budget. We’ve made clear our priorities. In a very difficult budget, we found $1 billion. And in fact, if you look at the social reforms that this Government has delivered over the last few years, the biggest reform to the pension, major reforms in health and education, a new Paid Parental Leave scheme, we’ve funded those on the budget, we’ve shown our priorities and we’ve done it responsibly by finding the savings to cover it. So we’ve got our runs on the board, and we intend to make sure that disability is a priority.

[second segment]

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Ms Macklin, Julia Gillard said last week the question of long-term funding is going to have to be discussed at some point, but can you guarantee that a Labor Government would fund the scheme out of general revenue and that the states would not be asked to meet any of the extra cost of the scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve certainly demonstrated that we’re going to meet our fair share from the budget. We have indicated and previously the Council of Australian Governments, the Premiers have agreed that this is an area of shared responsibility. So of course, we think the funding of it should be shared between the Commonwealth and the states. We do have a lot of work yet to do on what that share should be. The Commonwealth, at the moment, pays around 30% of the cost of disability care and support, the states pay the rest. We know we have to do more than that, so we have made it clear that we intend to shoulder more of the responsibility, but we do think it’s a shared responsibility.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: So the states certainly would be in for more than they are paying at the moment, you’re saying?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s our view. Of course, we do acknowledge that this has traditionally been an area of state responsibility where the Commonwealth has helped. But now we want to fix what is a terrible fragmented system that is not delivering to people with disability or their carers. And I think we all agree that that needs to be done. And so the funding is going to need to be shared.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: But didn’t the Productivity Commission say that the Commonwealth should bear the extra costs?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, I know the State Premiers like to put it that way, but if you have a look at the detail, they say the Commonwealth should pay and then recoup some inefficient taxes back from the states. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that the states have not offered up any taxes to the Commonwealth. So we’re saying…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: …the Productivity Commission did ask you to entrench in legislation the funding formula. Are you anywhere near guaranteeing it? Because people who rely on these services, they want to know it’s going to exist in future.

JENNY MACKLIN: They do, and we’re certainly in the process of drafting Commonwealth legislation. I hope to get that legislation into the Parliament as soon as possible. It is important not just for funding, it is important to demonstrate to the Australian people and especially people with disability and their carers and families, that this legislation will be through the Federal Parliament as soon as we can get it through.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Isn’t that the reason that the conservative states were so worried about the agreement? If you’ve got legislation going through that’s going to entrench the funding, then they had every right to be cautious on Wednesday, didn’t they?

JENNY MACKLIN: No, no. This is legislation that will establish the scheme. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. This is legislation that will establish the scheme and of course, we will continue to talk with the states and territories about the shared funding commitment.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But you still need to entrench the funding model in the legislation to make sure it exists.

JENNY MACKLIN: We will eventually need to do that. But in the first instance, we need to establish the scheme in Commonwealth legislation, and that’s what we’ll do. That’s exactly what people with disability want us to do. They want to know that this is in legislation, that it’s going to be protected, that they will have rights under that legislation and that’s what I intend to deliver.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: One of the points of criticism that some of the Premiers made was that the administration cost of the trials seemed excessively high. What is the proportion that is the administration cost and what does that cover, why is it apparently high?

JENNY MACKLIN: Of course, we’ve got a huge number of things to do. Yes, we do have to spend some money on administration but we are also spending money on the workforce, making sure that the very large workforce we have now grows, because if we are going to see such a big increase in the number of people who get better care – remember that is what this is all about – better care and support, we are going to need a much, much bigger workforce. So we are spending money on the workforce, getting the non-government sector ready. That is really where a lot of the money is going as well.

HUGH RIMINTON: This has been perceived as a big win for the Prime Minister, but the polling remains dire for the Government. Now the Rudd supporters, who still believe the best hope for the party is for the Prime Minister to face facts at some stage and to stand aside for the good of the party, she seemed to be shutting down that idea on Thursday. Here is what she said:

JULIA GILLARD: I’m not going to rest until these reforms are bedded in and ready for the long-term future of our country, and I will certainly be here doing it.

HUGH RIMINTON: So if she was the step aside for the good of the party, when would be the best time surely to do it? It would be the end of this year or early next year, wouldn’t it?

JENNY MACKLIN: That matter has been resolved. We resolved it in February, and what I just want to say about this issue is that we have seen the sort of leadership that people with disability and carers want to see. That’s what we have seen from the Prime Minister this week. Her determination to make sure that we deliver a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

No other Prime Minister has ever done that. I know everybody now says it’s a great idea but actually, no one else has put this forward. No one else has really gone out there and made sure it happened, and no one else has delivered the first $1 billion of our budget into a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The person who’s done it is our Prime Minister, and I think people with disability and their carers are very, very glad she is there.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: One matter that hasn’t been resolved is how the Labor Party best fights the Greens, whether it is really aggressively or a more moderated approach. How much of a threat do you think the Greens are to the Labor Party? How do you fight them, how do you stop them taking a base?

JENNY MACKLIN: The way I look at my own personal politics, Michelle, is to think about the people who are the most disadvantaged in our community. That is why I’m in the Parliament. And the way I focus my attention is on delivering the pension reforms, delivering Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme, most recently, the Schoolkids Bonus, the increase for teenagers. These are the things that I’m focused on.

HUGH RIMINTON: But you can only do that from Government. And at the moment the Greens are eating into your base, would you support preferencing them last, seeing that they are a danger that you have to see off?

JENNY MACKLIN: One thing I have never got involved in is any preference discussions and I do not intend to be that sort of politician. The sort of person I am is the person who does these other things, does the things that parents need. Of course I’m also responsible for our Closing the Gap strategy, and today, of course, making sure we are delivering a National Disability Insurance Scheme, so that is what I’m concentrating on.

HUGH RIMINTON: Jenny Macklin, good to have you here today. Thank you very much your time.